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Ignite Insight: 4 Themes to Expect at Microsoft’s 2021 Event

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The Microsoft Ignite conference, taking place this year from November 2-4, will be completely virtual, similar to last year. But that's not stopping anyone from learning what Microsoft has in store for the future of communications, collaboration, and much more, as Microsoft expects over 100,000 global attendees to participate in the three-day event.
 
Microsoft describes Ignite as its flagship event for IT implementers, developers, and tactical decision-makers. Content is focused on helping customers, and partners make the most of Microsoft technologies. At Ignite, Microsoft also shares its vision of the future and outlines a roadmap for products and technology.
 
Looking at its market progress, Microsoft continues to advance and execute on its defined strategy, yielding strong results. Proof point: Microsoft last week became the most valuable company in the world, valued at $2.45 billion. Microsoft’s revenue in the latest quarter exceeded analysts’ expectations, achieving year-on-year growth of 22% and delivering $45.32 billion in quarterly revenue. Given that the current strategy is working well, you should expect Microsoft to emphasize and extend current themes during this week’s keynotes and sessions, which include:
 
1. The Microsoft Cloud
Microsoft often suggests that the Microsoft Cloud is the most trusted and comprehensive cloud in the world. Under the leadership of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has avoided the privacy concerns associated with Facebook, Google, and Amazon, notably by emphasizing and implementing policies that respect each organization’s data as their own.
 
The Microsoft business model does not seek to monetize individual data in the same way that Facebook and Google do. While both Google, with GCP, and Amazon, with AWS, arguably deliver corporate-focused cloud services, they are challenged with selling a more complex story that differentiates between consumer and corporate data collection. For the most part, Microsoft has been able to avoid this potentially problematic dichotomy.
 
You should expect more Azure branded services and expansions of capabilities within existing Azure services. Azure is a huge brand, already including more than 200 products and cloud services, and Microsoft clearly intends it to grow in depth and breadth. Additionally, Microsoft will continue the push to “verticalize” its cloud offerings. Microsoft has previously announced a variety of Industry Clouds: Retail, Healthcare, Financial Services, Manufacturing, Non-profit, Sustainability. Expect both availability and feature expansion announcements during Ignite.
 
Certainly, both the Microsoft and Amazon cloud offerings are robust. You can find multiple articles suggesting each is superior, depending on the evaluation criteria used. Simply, if you are a Microsoft shop and if your developers are more familiar with Microsoft tools, then choose Azure, the Microsoft Cloud. On the other hand, if your organization uses other vendors' communication and collaboration tools and your developers are not familiar with the Microsoft ecosystem, AWS is a worthy consideration.
 
As a partner, look for Ignite announcements that extend capabilities in areas where you are already generating revenue. Expect announcements that expand adjacent capabilities that potentially illuminate new business opportunities. Microsoft is likely to continue its multi-cloud push, whereby tools that previously focused only on Azure gain capabilities to consolidate and manage both AWS and GCP cloud services.
 
As a customer, here are some questions to ask yourself: “What does this mean for my organization? How can I use these new capabilities to sell more or significantly reduce costs? Can Industry Cloud features accelerate speed to market or provide competitive advantages with less investment?”
 
2. Digital Transformation
Microsoft believes every company can and should become a digital company. This has worked well for Microsoft. Arguably, its focus on digital versus physical products is one of the key reasons Microsoft’s valuation recently exceeded Apple’s, which saw physical product revenue negatively impacted due to supply chain disruptions. Perhaps, this is an overly simplistic view.
 
Partners should evaluate Ignite content in the context of what new capabilities or tools will deliver value to its customers; this will vary based on customer industry. Customers should ask, is it likely that this new capability drives more revenue or materially reduces costs? Keep in mind that most organizations already have licensed technology they have not fully leveraged. One of the challenges Microsoft faces as it expands the Office 365 bundle and seeks to drive incremental revenue is dealing with under-utilized capabilities.
 
Customers should be open to, but not hypnotized by, the concept of digital transformation. Leveraging your existing data can yield material, internal efficiencies; most organizations are not currently aware of, let alone analyzing, the robust analytics available via O365.
 
3. Hybrid Work
During the past 18 months, Microsoft has shared many data-driven insights via its Work Trend Index research. One key finding, Microsoft has found that 70% of employees want more flexibility in where they work, whether that be at home, in the office, or somewhere in between, and a similar percentage of people want more in-person work. Microsoft thus reasonably concluded that hybrid work is likely to remain a significant need, and we should expect many Ignite announcements to support and emphasize this model.
 
As a partner, consider how Microsoft collaboration and meeting capabilities might help your customers address the challenge of hybrid work.
 
As a customer, you should leverage the research Microsoft has shared and then validate the findings are relevant for your organization. If hybrid work is a reality for your organization, lean into the newer Teams collaboration hardware in a pilot mode, and use the rich Office 365 analytics to measure what specific solutions are delivering measurable value.
 
4. Security
During his keynote on Tuesday, November 8, Nadella will likely focus on Trust: Microsoft's framework for discussing data ownership, security, and compliance.
 
With ransomware and cyberattacks appearing in the news almost weekly, Microsoft will continue to emphasize its robust portfolio: identity and access management, threat protection, data loss protection, risk management, retention policies, and compliance. I’d be surprised if they also didn’t pitch Windows 11 and the most secure OS available (hopefully, reducing some of the confusion related to the Trusted Platform Module 2.0 requirements).
 
Connecting the Dots
While Microsoft Cloud, digital transformation, hybrid work, and security will surface as key themes, I expect to hear more messaging on how Microsoft Teams serves as the canvas to surface many of these capabilities, effectively Teams acts as the glue that ties together multiple Microsoft tools. Examples and demos are likely to include integration of Dynamics and Viva with Teams and workflow automation enabled by the Power Platform: Power Apps, Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents, Power BI.
 
Further, I hope that given recent Facebook metaverse and Cisco Webex Hologram announcements, that we will see Microsoft expound on its own view for the metaverse, building on the work it has done with Hololens, Mesh, and Teams Remote Assist.
 
With over 170 hours of planned session content, it will be impossible for any one person to attend every session or absorb what is certain to be hundreds of announcements. If you have a team, I suggest you divide and conquer. For my part, I am planning to publish daily Ignite Insight updates, offering opinions and commentary on key announcements.

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